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Feb 2012 Newsletter


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February Newsletter

February Newsletter

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  • 1. Company or DBA Name Street Address City, State, Zip Phone number Fax number Rep Name Email addressFEBRUARY 2012 Compliments of Jason Luck WILL ROBOTS MAKE THE 401(k) A DINOSAUR? It happened so fast, some people still don’t recognize the shift that has taken place, but a technological trend four decades in the making has ushered in a new 401(k) 401(k) economic paradigm, seemingly overnight. And as a An extinct financial idea An extinct financial idea result, many financial ideas that were once seen as for funding one’s for funding one’s cutting-edge solutions may become economic dinosaurs, retirement, doomed by retirement. the economic climate ill-prepared to survive the changing times. change. Moore’s Law = More work for machines, less for people Marshall Brain, the founder of the “edutainment” company How It Works, recently posted a commentary on his website titled“Robotic Nation.” In the article, he detailed the events of a recent Saturday morning withhis kids:  I got money in the morning from the ATM. In This Issue…  I bought gas from an automated pump.  I bought groceries at (a warehouse club) using an extremely well-designed self- service check out line. WILL ROBOTS MAKE THE  I bought some stuff for the house at (a do-it-yourself home maintenance store), 401(k) A DINOSAUR? Page 1 using their not-as-well-designed-as-(the warehouses) self-service check-out line.  I bought my food at McDonalds at the kiosk. *(The kiosk “as described above” allowed Brain and his children to place their order CHECKING (and fixing) YOUR remotely from the McDonald’s playspace.) UNIVERSAL LIFE POLICIES… Before It’s Too Late In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore noted that the number of transistors that Page 3could be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit had doubled approximately everytwo years since the invention of the first integrated circuit in 1958. Moore postulated that GURUS, NEWSLETTERSthis pace would continue, for at least the next 10 years. This statement, which became & “FINANCIALknown as Moore’s Law, proved true, and not just through 1975, but for another 35 years. ENLIGHTENMENT”And while no one believes computing capacity will double forever, the latest projections Page 4are that Moore’s Law will continue well into the next decade. Moore’s Law explains how digital technologies and devices have moved from sciencefiction fantasies to everyday necessities in every part of the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s PREPARING FOR YOURagriculture, manufacturing, the retail and service industries, or various professional fields. “BASE INCOME YEAR” Page 5The technologies that have come about as a result of Moore’s Law – fax machines,personal computers, digital cameras, cell phones, bar scanners, GPS systems – haveredefined employment in every sector of the economy. WHAT DOES IT MEAN In theory, these new technologies benefit the consumer. They are faster, easy-to-use, WHEN 90% OF THEand lower the cost of doing business, which usually translates to lower prices. But Brain, SMART PEOPLE AREa technology advocate, also sees a downside: “The problem is that these systems will WRONG? Page 6also eliminate jobs in massive numbers. In fact, we are about to see a seismic shift inthe American workforce. As a nation, we have no way to understand or handle the© Copyright 2012 Page 1
  • 2. level of unemployment that we will see in our economy The first 401(k) plans were established by congressionalover the next several decades.” legislation in the 1980s to encourage workers to defer Mr. Brain’s observations have been echoed in a number earnings for retirement. Deferred wages deposited into theof commentaries describing a “Jobless Recovery” from the plan, along with subsequent earnings, remained non-taxablerecent recession. In a January 17, 2012, Wall Street Journal until the time of distribution, which was ideally intended toarticle, W. Brian Arthur, an economist at Xerox Corp.s Palo occur after age 59 ½, and not later than age 70. The employerAlto Research Center, says businesses are “increasingly administered the plan, provided investment options, and oftenusing computers and software in the place of people in the encouraged participation through the addition of matchingnations vast service sector. Many companies, for instance, deposits. Under certain circumstances, 401(k) accountuse automation to process orders or send bills.” holders could also access funds prior to retirement, either as "Its not just machines replacing people, though theres loans or pre-retirement distributions.some of that," Mr. Arthur says. "Its much more the In a static employment situation, where steady paychecksdigitization of the whole economy." and long-term employment are the norms, the 401(k) seems The article goes on to note that the United States is like a sound concept. Even today, generic financial advicesecond only to Japan in the use of industrial robots, and that from mainstream media still usually includes the phrase“orders for new robots were up 41% through September from “max out your 401(k) contributions.” But the viability of aa year earlier, according to the Robotics Industries 401(k) hinges on ongoing employment and a steadyAssociation trade group.” income. Given the changing dynamics of employment, making 401(k) contributions a financial priority may beWhat Happens Next? committing to an approach that is no longer well-suited for If the history of technology holds true, increased the current economic climate.productivity from technology eventually creates new jobs and Suppose your household encounters a period of under-raises living standards, and those whose jobs are replaced by employment; overtime is eliminated, bonuses are cut, or aautomation will move on to other fields. The current spouse loses a job. To bridge what is anticipated to be achallenge is that the technological rate of change is occurring temporary situation, many workers end up tapping theirso much faster than the creation of new job opportunities, 401(k)s. Distributions from 401(k) accounts, either as loanswith the obvious consequence of higher unemployment. or early distributions, may be limited by plan regulationsAnother ripple effect is under-employment – many people and/or incur tax consequences, including penalties. Thus,with jobs aren’t working full-time. when 401(k) funds are used as cash reserves, the cost of Charles Murray is the author of “Coming Apart,” a study access could be significantly higher than the tax advantagesof how income and employment has dramatically changed in that were given on the deposits – and the situation isAmerica in the past 50 years. A key finding is a significant exacerbated if the 401(k) participant terminates employmentincrease in what Murray calls “prime-age adults” (males ages with an outstanding loan. In short, a 401(k) is not well-suited30-49) who work fewer than 40 hours a week. For men with for use during periods of under- or unemployment.only a high-school education (Murray’s “working class”), his Similar qualified retirement accounts for the self-research found that fully 20% of those working were not employed and smaller businesses (such as IRAs or SEPs)employed full-time. face the same challenges regarding early distributions, albeit Other studies focusing on this age 30-49 group show with slightly different regulations. But other factors worksimilar trends in income and employment instability. A against using qualified retirement plans for the self-January 2012 study from the Insured Retirement Institute employed. Income from self-employment is often irregular,(IRI) titled “Retirement Readiness of Generation X” reported both during the year, and from year-to-year, which can makethat almost one in four of those surveyed had stopped regular deposits problematic. Early on, cash flow may notcontributing to retirement accounts, while another 15% had even allow for deposits. If the business grows over time, amade early withdrawals. Most cited fallout from the recent profitable self-employedrecession, i.e., job loss, reduced wages, etc., as the reason for individual may finddisrupted savings. deposits restricted by The viability of a 401(k) If the trend toward automation continues, particularly in annual contribution hinges on ongoinglarge companies, where will these displaced employees find limits – “Now that I’m employment and awork? One likely answer is self-employment. In a paper making a lot of money, I steady income.presented to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta in can’t find a place toNovember 2011, New Mexico State University economics defer it for retirement!”professor Anil Rupasingha found “self-employment hassurged in the last decade and will continue.” Citing Bureau of Better Accumulation Plans for an IrregularLabor Statistics data that showed 31% of the labor force was Employment Futureself-employed in 2011 – and was projected to represent 40% Every year, Congress, in conjunction with economicof the work force in 2019 – Rupashingha concluded “For policymakers, contemplates adjustments to existing qualifiedsome, self-employment may be their best hope.” retirement plan regulations. But most of these changes areUnemployment, Under-employment, tweaks; they don’t change the fundamental structure ofSelf-employment…“and the 401(k) fits where?” retirement accounts. Rather than trying to continue working within the confines of a model that may not be suited for© Copyright 2012 Page 2
  • 3. irregular employment, individuals might be better off (This article is a bit on the technical side, but understanding the concepts could be important.)considering alternatives. If so, what features should be part ofan “Irregular Employment Accumulation Account”? (Some Universal life (UL) is a type of permanent life insurancemarketing guru needs to come up with a better name; an policy introduced in the early 1980s. Some of the features of“IEA Account” just isn’t catchy.) Here is a partial list: UL were quite innovative, but because of the economic Flexible deposits and withdrawals. Liberal contribution climate in which UL was introduced, the true long-term regulations would provide the option of adding excess impact of these UL innovations is only now becoming deposits in good years, or forgoing deposits in lean periods. understood. Since many long-term owners of UL policies are Tax advantages. If you aren’t using the money, it would just now coming to grips with these issues, it is important to be beneficial to eliminate or minimize carrying costs (such as understand the concepts and factors that impact UL contracts, the taxes on interest and capital gains). and how to address them. Safety. Given the possibility that some funds may be required to replace income in the near future (such as between First, a short (but necessary) explanation of the financial employment), these accounts should include conservative concepts that affect UL: investment vehicles, preferably ones with guarantees. Accessibility. Loan restrictions, surrender charges, and The Difference between Projections and tax penalties in many financial products are practical Guarantees deterrents to discourage the liquidation of long-term In a traditional permanent insurance policy, such as accumulation vehicles. But if the need or opportunity arises, Whole Life, both the annual premium and death benefit are access options should be possible with a minimum of fixed and guaranteed for one’s “whole life,” typically to age restrictions. Personal ownership and portability. Regardless of 100. As premiums are paid, a portion of the payment is employment, and particularly in periods of unemployment, designated as “cash value,” which is considered the owner’s this account should be under individual control, and capable equity in the insurance benefit. If the insured does not die of fitting into future employment scenarios. before age 100, the policy “matures” and the insured receives Adaptability and long-term value. A standard feature of what would have been the death benefit as a cash payment. personal planning for the past three decades has been to (Every policy contains a schedule which defines the terms of compartmentalize financial objectives and find a specific these guarantees.) product for them, i.e., a separate account for cash reserves, Because life insurance companies have a contractual retirement, college education, medical expenses, etc. commitment to deliver an insurance benefit at any time, the Considering the ups-and-downs of irregular employment, a “multi-tool” accumulation account that can serve several determination of premiums and guarantees is based on purposes over one’s lifetime would be attractive. extremely conservative risk assessments. Insurance companies overestimate how many policyholders will die, Does such a financial vehicle exist? The best answer is and overestimate how much it will cost to operate the“yes and no.” Profitable self-employed individuals have been company; they underestimate the rate of return they willworking with these ideas for awhile now. A competent achieve on the reserves they have accumulated to pay professional can probably help you construct a If claims and operating costs are lower than anticipatedfinancial program with many of these features, although they and/or investment returns are higher, these savings aremay not be combined in one product. And if the current trend returned to policyholders in the form of dividends*. Often,in irregular employment continues, you can be sure the these dividends are added to cash values, and may also bemarketplace will develop new products. Is there a used to increase the insurance benefit.congressionally-authorized IEA account? Not yet. Since most insurance companies regularly surpass their Consider your current employment circumstances and conservative estimates, dividends can cause both cash valuesyour future prospects. How has technology changed your and life insurance benefits to dramatically increase beyondwork in the past decade? Are more automation and fewer the guarantees specified in the contract over time. Thus,people a possibility? More to the point… when illustrating their policies to potential buyers, insurance companies are permitted to present illustrations featuringHAS THE 401(k) BECOME A DINOSAUR both guarantees and projections based on dividends. WhileIN YOUR FINANCIAL WORLD? the planning rate in the illustration is not an exactIS IT TIME TO CONSIDER ALTERNATIVES? determination of future performance, showing projections is______________________________________________ a reasonable practice since most long-established insurance companies have paid dividends every year for over a century.CHECKING (and In short, a good permanent life insurance policy is designed to exceed its guarantees, and will almost always do so.fixing) YOUR *Dividends are not guaranteed and are declared annually by the company’sUNIVERSAL LIFE board if directors.POLICIES… UL Tilts Toward Projections, Away fromBefore It’s Too Late Guarantees In several ways, UL policies capitalize on the spread “The future ain’t what it between guaranteed and projected performance. Instead ofused to be.” – Yogi Berra establishing fixed premiums and guarantees, UL contracts© Copyright 2012 Page 3
  • 4. allow the policyholder flexibility in premium payments, Even if the plateau is further out on the projection, it isbased on the current performance of the insurance company. particularly important for older policyholders to addressWithin certain parameters, policyholders can make premium adjustments as soon as possible. The cost of insurance climbspayments as large or small as they want, as often as they at an accelerated pace beginning around 60, and at later ages,want, provided there is always enough cash value to cover adjustments may no longer be economically feasible.the current cost of insurance and keep the policy in force. If Besides adding premium, UL policyholders may have thethere is ever an occasion where there is not enough premium option of reducing the insurance benefit to enhanceand/or cash value to cover the cost of insurance, the policy is guarantees. While this option may not be ideal, it at leastterminated. preserves some benefit for the Using the same format of Many long-time policyholders now premiums that have been paid, whereasillustrating both guaranteed and find themselves in a dilemma: they a lapsed UL contract isn’t any differentprojected performance, a prospective must increase their premiums or than an expired term life insuranceUL policy owner can select a premium forfeit their insurance. policy – a lot of premiums out-of-schedule that may not be guaranteed to pocket, but no financial benefit if youage 100, but is projected to last until age are still living.100. This decision, to base the structure of the policy on Some UL policy owners may not have intended to keepprojected performance instead of guaranteed the insurance for their entire life. But owning a life insuranceperformance, results in lower premiums and cash values, but benefit is a valuable asset, and the appreciation of what lifestill offers the possibility of an insurance benefit being in insurance can provide often increases with age. It is prudentforce for one’s entire life. The idea of paying less for a to determine if there are ways to preserve your insurabilitypermanent insurance benefit has been (and is) a major UL and integrate it into your existing financial programs.selling point with some consumers. Depending on the insured’s age when a UL policy is IF YOU (OR YOUR PARENTS) HAVE Apurchased, the spread between the guarantee and projection UL POLICY, WHY NOT REVIEW IT TODAY?can be significant. For example, a 40-year-old could select a THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PROJECTIONpremium schedule which guarantees the policy’s benefits toage 70, while the projection shows coverage lasting to age AND A GUARANTEE COULD BE HUGE!100. This leaves a lot of room for variation between theprojections and actual performance. If any of the factors thatfigure into actual performance are below projections, the GURUS,policy will either expire before age 100, or require additionalpremium to compensate for the under-performance. NEWSLETTERS & Among the factors that affect policy performance, the rate “FINANCIALof return on invested reserves is the hardest to predict andcontrol. In the 1980s, interest rates were quite high, relative ENLIGHTENMENT”to today. Many UL policy illustrations used high interest Because everyone uses money, we all think we knowrates, producing optimistic projections that haven’t come something about it, and it’s easy to have an opinion. We canclose to reflecting actual performance. As a result, many tell our friends why it was smart to buy this house, how welong-time policyholders now find themselves in a dilemma: figured out it was better to lease that car, and maybe offer athey must increase their premiums or forfeit their insurance. “special formula” for 401(k) allocations. But get a littleIn some cases, the premium required to maintain the beyond the specifics of our personal finances, and most of uscoverage at advanced ages is prohibitive. This is especially are far from being experts, and we know it. So whentroublesome for individuals who intended the insurance someone else comes along and tells us they can make moneybenefit from a UL policy to facilitate estate plans, because “simple,” and make us profitable, the attraction is strong. Asthe plan requires an insurance benefit to be paid at death. long as there has been money, there have been gurus who offer “financial enlightenment” for the masses.UL Warning Signs and Remedies Today’s financial gurus have TV shows, newsletters, If you own a UL policy, and want to assess its status, one DVDs and do-it-yourself money makeovers. They are smartof the steps you can take is to receive an updated projection enough to get your respect, entertaining enough to keep yourof values and guarantees. Most UL policies can deliver the attention, and down-to-earth enough to make you say, “hey,same guarantees as whole life policies if the premium is he/she is one of us! I can relate to this guy/gal!” Usuallyincreased, and you’ll want to know the numbers. there’s a hint of outsider to them, implying that they know As you scan the illustration, see if there is a point where the “inside scoop” and want to educate us so we can beat thecash values begin to plateau or decline. This is an indication big boys at their own game.that the cost of insurance will begin out-pacing projected But while a guru might make personal finance simple andpremiums and interest crediting rate, and the policy is entertaining, their “objective advice” is sometimes a thinly-moving toward termination. This decline in cash values may disguised reach for your wallet. Besides educationalbe quite gradual at first, but the shorter the time period to the materials for sale, many gurus have business affiliations withplateau, the sooner you may need to consider corrective select brokers and agents. Not surprisingly, the guru’smeasures. “recommendations” often include investments with some of© Copyright 2012 Page 4
  • 5. these same brokers and agents. Are these coincidences or newsletter to people who are looking for solid financialconflicts of interest? advice.” Every situation has to be evaluated on its own merits, but These types of interwoven business relationships createbecause of the nature of the financial guru business, potential conflicts of interest and challenge the objectivity ofskepticism is prudent. Consider the opening statement from the information presented in a newsletter. A newsletter’sJason Zweig’s January 21, 2012, “Intelligent Investor” “solid financial advice” may be heavily influenced by thecolumn in the Wall Street Journal: profit motives of the guru and other associated parties. What business has an estimated one million But this is a newsletter, too… clients, operates on the fringe of securities law and can say just anything without immediate Yeah, it is. However, there are several important consequence? distinctions between what you read here and something that It is the investing-newsletter industry. And the comes from the money gurus. public should approach newsletters with caution,  First, unlike newsletters distributed by non- even when they come with a celebrity endorsement. credentialed “experts” the content of this publicationIt’s all true. Except for “typos,” and imaginary rankings. is regulated. Because the providers are licensed brokers and insurance professionals, every article is Zweig goes on to delineate a tangled and somewhat reviewed by a compliance department and edited forsketchy relationship between a well-known money guru and accuracy and proper attribution.the manager of a small mutual fund. In March 2011, the guru  Because every personal finance situation is unique,(who appears regularly on the cable TV business channels, there are no specific recommendations. The articleshas written several books, makes national speaking tours, and may be thought-provoking, opinionated (and hopefullyis described as a “personal-finance expert” by the Journal) worth reading), but any recommendations will be theand the fund manager launched a monthly newsletter result of your meeting with the financial professionalfeaturing specific investment recommendations, typically and crafting a strategy or solution that matches youradjusted for different age groups (20 years to retirement, 15 personal circumstances.years to retirement, etc.). To jump-start this venture, the guru  Following in the same vein, products or companiesgave away 50,000 one-year subscriptions. On several are not mentioned by name. This publication is not aoccasions, the newsletter has recommended investing in the marketing vehicle for an insurance company or anmanager’s funds. investment firm. The rationale for encouraging investors to use the fundmanager is a supposedly stellar track record. Except the Listening to a money guru may give you a fundamentaloutstanding results may have been inaccurately understanding of many financial issues. But when it comes topresented. In a 10-year comparison of the manager’s completing a transaction or executing a particular financialperformance against the S & P 500 index, the Journal found strategy, it should be obvious that personal communicationthat the newsletter understated the actual performance of the and expert assistance offer substantial advantages forS & P in nine of ten years! In some instances, this meant the individuals who want to improve their financial performancefund manager’s underperformance compared to the S & P and realize their long-term goals. Financial professionals maywas erroneously reported as beating the index. When the earn commissions or charge fees, but the compensationJournal reporters confronted the manager about the arrangement is usually transparent.anomalies, he responded, “I’m not perfect. We don’t claim to ______________________________________________be.” A week later, the newsletter told readers the mistake wasa “typographical error.” PREPARING FOR YOUR The fund manager has been associated with othernewsletters in the past, and claims one of his publications had “BASE INCOME YEAR”been “ranked #1 by Hulbert Financial Digest for five years For parents who anticipate their child/children will attendthrough 2006,” and that another was “ranked #1 and college, part of the process will usually include compilingrecommended by Hulbert Financial Digest!” When the personal financial documentation to apply for grants, loansJournal attempted to verify this claim, Hulbert, a publication and scholarships. While much merit-based financialthat tracks investor newsletter performance, said it “doesn’t assistance exists to help students pay for college, the greatermake recommendations.” Furthermore, the editor said that percentage of aid is needs-based; in general, those with lower“No matter how I slice and dice the data, I cannot support the incomes and fewer eligible assets will receive more funds.claim of being No. 1 for that five-year period.” When However, there are several determining factors in theconfronted with this rebuttal, the fund manager insisted he financial aid application process which can be preemptivelywas No. 1, adding “I’ll say that to my grave.” adjusted to improve your household’s financial eligibility. When presented the same information, the money guru e- For example, home equity, retirement accounts and lifemailed her continued support: “(The fund manager) is ethical, insurance cash values are not counted as family assets whenhonest and achieves stellar results that consistently calculating eligibility. This means some households mayoutperform the market. I’m proud to be able to provide our benefit from repositioning existing funds by making extra principal payments on a mortgage, increasing contributions© Copyright 2012 Page 5
  • 6. to retirement accounts, or adding to cash values. Another big WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN… planning opportunity is preparing for your household’s base income year. 90% OF THE SMART PEOPLE Beginning on January 1 of a student’s junior year in high school, this base income year is the one that counts most in ARE WRONG? determining a family’s eligibility for aid. Since income and The following information was compiled by Michael A. assets acquired during this year set a baseline for subsequent Higley for his January 9, 2012, issue of By the Numbers: years, there is strong incentive (from a financial aid standpoint) to depress income. This can be accomplished In the December 20, 2010, issue of Barron’s, 10 through several avenues, including: Wall Street equity strategists forecasted where the S&P 500 would finish 2011. 9 of the 10 prognosticators  Postponing retirement distributions to the next year  Avoiding the sale of any assets (such as real estate, stocks predicted the S&P 500 would end the year at 1,325 or or bonds) that would trigger capital gains higher (note that the index ended 2010 at 1,258).  Incurring as many deductible expenses as possible Douglas Cliggott (Credit Suisse) was the lone dissenter (applicable primarily to self-employed or business owners) from the majority belief, forecasting a 1,250 year-end  Pre-paying property taxes value for the S&P 500. The stock index finished 2011  Properly titling accounts (20% of the balance in an account at 1,258. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index of 500 with the student’s name is considered available for college widely held stocks that is generally considered expenses, while only 5.64% is considered from parents’ representative of the US stock market. accounts) So what does it mean when 90% of the smart people are A bit of prudent asset re-positioning might pay dividends wrong? It just means that predicting the future is impossible, in increased financial aid. even for smart people. And Mr. Cliggott, the one analyst who IF COLLEGE IS IN THE FUTURE FOR YOUR was “right,” probably just got lucky. As Peter Drucker (another smart person) put it: CHILD, YOUR FINANCIAL PROFESSIONALS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT YOUR PLANS. “Trying to predict the future is like driving down a country road at night with no headlights on HAVE YOU PREPPED FOR YOUR BASE and looking out the back window.” INCOME YEAR?This newsletter is prepared by an independent third party for distribution by your Representative(s). Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal or investment advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed reliable, please note that individual situations can vary, therefore the information should be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice. Links to other sites arefor your convenience in locating related information and services. The Representative(s) does not maintain these other sites and has no control over the organizations that maintain the sites or the information, products or services these organizations provide. The Representative(s) expressly disclaims any responsibility for the content, the accuracy of the information or the quality of products or services provided by the organizations that maintain these sites. The Representative(s) does not recommend or endorse these organizations or their products or services in any way. We have not reviewed or approved the above referenced publications nor recommend or endorse them in any way. Jason Luck The Bulfinch Group 300 Ledgewood Place, Suite 105 Rockland MA 02370 (P) 781-681-1516 / (Fax) 781-681-1550 Field Representative, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Life Insurance offered through The Bulfinch Group Insurance Agency, LLC, an affiliate of The Bulfinch Group, LLC. The Bulfinch Group, LLC is not licensed to sell insurance. © Copyright 2012 Page 6